I’m a slow reader, because I take my time reading but also tend to get distracted often, so I rarely come across a book that hooks me. Coupled with that is the terrible habit I have of beginning to read a new book before finishing the one I’m already on. And Capstone research has been no different.
Here’s my reading list for the summer:
‘The Theatre and its Double’ – Antonin Artaud
‘On Photography’ – Susan Sontag
‘Art of Burning Man’ – NK Guy
‘Before the Movies’ – Terry and Deborah Borton
‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees’ – Lawrence Weschler (conversations with Robert Irwin)
‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ – Wassily Kandinsky
‘What the Buddha Taught’ – Theravadin Walpola Rahula
Teoría del VJing’ – César Ustarroz
I’ve started on all of them but have finished the two that I will write about here: Artaud and Kandinsky. Having said that, I’m noticing that the benefit to reading multiple books at once, is that they all appear in conversation with each other. In looking particularly at Robert Irwin, Sontag, Artaud, and Kandinsky, one thing is clear: they’re all concerned about the perception of reality.
I had read Artaud before, but this was the first time I was reading it with my Capstone in mind. I noticed then, that he talks a lot about light. Light in its technical sense, but light also in a similar way to how Kandinsky talks about colours: in relation to the spiritual. Neither of them, however, ever define spirituality explicitly. They do so though through their philosophies, feelings, and ramblings – Artaud on theater, and Kandinsky on painting as well as music.
Kandinsky discusses colour in a way that is synaesthetic. Looking at his paintings, to some, this would come as no surprise. It took me a few moments to see that Kandinsky’s paintings resemble visuals – as part of VJ sets – that I had seen before. Not surprisingly, some animators or students pursuing the field and tasked to animate a painting, turn towards the work of Kandinsky. There’s one I’ve come across that I think is well made and stays true to the work of Kandinsky which is titled “The Kandinsky Effect”, by motion designer and director Manu Meyre (2010). Meyre takes Kandinsky’s Composition 8 (1923), dissects it, and places the painting’s elements in a three dimensional space, with each element responding to the music. This to me, looks no different to the visuals created for TSF’s video teaser trailer to accompany their EP, Time Tones (2016).
Okay, sure – they look different. Meyre preserves the colour palette of Kandinsky’s work whereas TSF strips their visuals to black and white, a common practice with VJs (take AntiVJ for example who reject the colourful visuals seen at concerts and instead create work that is in black and white). The point being, that there are ways in which they resemble each other. And we can begin to look at visuals through Kandinsky’s views on form and colour.
To Kandinsky, colour is colour and form is form. This is to say that meaning that we attach onto them comes from within us. Kandinsky loved music and he thought it affected one’s soul in a way that painting never could. Where painting was able to triumph over music, however, is in that music “has at its disposal duration of time; while painting can present to the spectator the whole content of its message at one moment” (Kandinsky 20). He doesn’t say that a painting is without a message, wherein that message could be as simple as trying to convey a feeling of the colour red. However, the problem lies within the spectator who views the painting. There is a tendency to see form and colour together as connoting something other. Kandinsky gives the examples of a red sky indicating a sunset, a red tree conveying autumn, and even the presence of a red horse as creating the sense that the viewer is in an “unreal world”.
“The spectator is too ready to look for a meaning in a picture– i.e., some outward connection between its various parts. Our materialistic age has produced a type of spectator or “connoisseur,” who is not content to put himself opposite a picture and let it say its own message. Instead of allowing the inner value of the picture to work, he worries himself in looking for “closeness to nature,” or “temperament,” or “handling,” or “tonality,” or “perspective,” or what not. His eye does not probe
the outer expression to arrive at the inner meaning” (Kandinsky 49).
One may think that Kandinsky is striving for a painting without meaning. I think though, that what he’s actually searching for is a visual art with its own meaning that is conveyed to the spectator, rather than a spectator imposing their own meaning or interpretation on the painting. This could be a meaning that cannot be described in words, but something that is instead felt. I’m sure Kandinsky would refer to it as something which touches the soul. Interesting to me is that he uses the term ‘spectator’ as opposed to observer or viewer, which then places the witness as situated in a show or event. The event may not be a gallery opening, but perhaps it is to refer to the act of viewing as an event in itself.
The question that arises then, is what is the space between the painting and the spectator? That space where meaning is either transferred or lost?
I can’t help but recall that Grotowski offers an answer to this question and frames it as theatre, defining theatre to be “what takes place between spectator and actor.” But we’ll save Grotowski for another day – who by the way, also speaks about theater in a spiritual sense (there’s a good brief synthesis by Cole Matson here).
When I first encountered Artaud, I was told to read his texts as though he was an oracle atop a mountain; that nothing would make coherent sense until one moment when he’d say something of profound value. And indeed, this is what it really felt like to read his work.
“At the apex of the [triangle’s] top segment stands often one man, and only one. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman” (Kandinsky 6) – these words by Kandinsky are what I imagined Artaud was like. These words were meant to describe Beethoven, and several other “prophets” in a fictional triangle envisioned by Kandinsky. Rereading Artaud, there’s something in his writings that reverberates within me. I may not understand his writings fully, but there’s an unmistakable feeling that at the same time I do understand and that’s because he writes with such a passion. If Kandinsky wanted a painting to speak its message for itself, Artaud wanted it to speak it loudly. In much the same way Kandinsky speaks of the energy of colour, Artaud turns to the energy of a gesture and what that means for the potential of a being. “A gesture carries its energy with it, and there are still human beings in the theater to manifest the force of the gesture made” (Artaud 81). On the stage, human beings have the capacity to be outside of themselves; to be otherworldly, to be extraordinary.
“That is why in the ‘theater of cruelty’ the spectator is in the center and the spectacle surrounds him.
“In this spectacle the sonorisation is constant: sounds, noises, cries are chosen first for their vibratory quality, then for what they represent.
“Among these gradually refined means light is interposed in its turn. Light which is not created merely to add color or to brighten, and which brings its power, influence, suggestions with it” (Artaud 81 – 82).
Contrary to Kandinsky, Artaud asserts that a light is attached with a colour and form, but it also carries its own meanings and associations. In thinking of my own Capstone, I’ve been so focused on the visuals and trying to figure out how to create them, that I must remind myself of the most fundamental aspect in working with projections: that projections are a source of light.
Artaud sought a bombardment of the senses (so sure, let’s put the spectator in the middle of the spectacle). He wanted theater to be reawakened to its full capacity in a way that was otherworldly, for lack of a better term. He believed that, “the theater, utilized in the highest and most difficult sense possible, has the power to influence the aspect and formation of things…. the encounter of one epidermis with another in a timeless debauchery” (Artaud 79). This reminds me of the club setting, which VJ has its roots in, as a kind of ambience that is after the hyper-real.
There’s still so much to unravel of Artaud, but there’s one quote that I’ll conclude on because it’s stayed in my mind:
“We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theater has been created to teach us that first of all.”
Artaud may have been looking for a theater of heightened proportions, but this does not mean that it is detached from reality. On the contrary, it seems as though he wanted to reawaken something within us all. To remove our complacency, and start to reawaken our senses to feel something greater.
Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. N.p.: Grove, 1958. Print.
Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Trans. M.T.H Sadler. N.p.: Dover Publications, 1977. Print.